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Cervantes’s Novelas ejemplares: Between History and Creativity

Joseph V. Ricapito

Miguel de Cervantes’s Novelas ejemplares, a collection of short stories in the tradition of Boccaccio. has a solid foundation in the history of Golden Age Spain. Joseph V. Ricapito studies Cervantes’s work from the point of view of “novelized history” or “history novelized”; in line with current New Historical thought, he argues that literary production is largely from life and experience, and that Cervantes was acutely aware of the problems of his day.

The novelas offer us a glimpse of Cervantes’s Spain and include a cataloguing of the social, political, and historical problems of the time. Ricapito shows how Cervantes fictionalizes the problems of unpopular minorities like Gypsies and conversos; the difficulties of social mobility in a Christian setting; the presence in society of differing and even outlandish individuals; and the oppressive role of honor, which was popularized by Lope de Vega and later formed a leitmotiv of Spanish drama.

In his analysis of Cervantes’s creative response to history, Ricapito relates the novelas to the works of Lope de Vega and Mateo Alemán and shows how Cervantes brings to life many literary topoi and places them in a realistic, credible framework in which the historical presence is strongly felt.

In Cervantes’s treatment of Spain’s waning prestige in Europe, we see his vision of human behavior. His view is stern, his critique is sharp, and he is sensitive to external stimuli.

"Contributing to renewed critical interest in Cervantes's novelas, Professor Ricaptio's historicist study combines a Castrista approach with early elements of new historicism by focusing on potential converso (or morisco) subtexts underlying ostensibly conventional narratves.... this collection of essays should prove to be a valuable readin in novelas studies." Nina Cox Davis, Revista de Estudios Hispánicos

For the complete review, see Revista de Estudios Hispánicos 31.3 (Oct. 1997): 578-80.

"These short synopses of the various chapters cannot, of course reveal the full scope of the book although they do point to the auther's intention: to present Cervantes as a thoughtful and humane person in conflict with rigid codes of his society but unwilling or unable to take a direct and open stand on such controversial problems. Prof. Ricaptio's reading of the novelas is thoughtful and stimulationg, if occasionally controversial, but the very engergy of his expostion engages the reader to a continuous and rewarding mental discussion with the author. Frank P. Casa, Hispanófila

For the complete review, see Hispanófila 42.126 (1999): 101-03.

"Ricapito's scholarship demonstrates the benefits derived from examining literature and history within the same frame. Ricapito reveres Cervantes's creative abilities and loathes reducing his work to a mere mimetic realism.... Cervantistas will welcome this new approach to the study of the Exemplary Novels." Eric J. Kartchner, Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

For the complete review, see Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 17.2 (Fall 1997): 137-41.

"This book is the work of a mature, serious scholar. As a whole it is thought-provoking and highly readable and an important contribution to the field." Manuel Durán, Yale University

"Professor Ricapito introduces his latest book with the recollection of an after dinner discussion with Stephen Gilman at a restaurant in Madrid, and the book retains the comfortable feeling of a charla with an old friend on a well known and much loved topic.... It is when Ricaptio synthesizes... that he is most successful. The strongest chapter is unquestionably chapter 4, which deals with the prose of honor, linked to Rojas' Celestina, and contrasts it with the drama of honor. This provides a fine springboard for a discussion of converso indentity and style, and lends itself especially well to an historical approach.... Ricapito's interpretation...adds greatly to our appreciation of the richness of Cervantes' work, without beginning to exhaust it. It provides a salutary reminder that Cervantes distinguishes himself more by his humanity than by his humanist erudition. By focusing on the terrible contradictions of the society in which Cervantes lived, Ricapito reminds modern readers of facts of which they are all too often ignorant, and will doubtless spur more detailed readings of the novelas ejemplares." Sara A. Taddeo, Sixteenth-Century Journal

For the complete review, see Sixteenth-Century Journal 28.2 (1997): 634-35.

Other reviews:

Hispanic Review 66.3 (Summer 1998): 343-45 (by Peter N. Dunn).

Hispania 80 (Mar. 1997): 55-57 (by James A. Parr).

Choice Dec. 1996, 34-2064, p. 620 (by M. V. Ekstrom).

Zeitschfirt fúr Romanische Philologie 115.3 (1999): 551-53. (by Wolfgang Matzat).

Iberomania 53 (2001): 127-29. (by Thomas Bodenmüller).

Joseph V. Ricapito, Louisiana State University, has published widely on the prose of the Spanish Golden Age, especially the Spanish picaresque novel; on Alfonso de Valdés and the work of Spanish writers influenced by Erasmus; and on the contacts between Italy and Spain in the Renaissance.

ISBN: 978-1-55753-204-6
1996. Vol. 10. x, 164 pp. Paper $28.95